This post is from ScIU’s archives. It was originally published by Maria Tiongco in September 2016, and has been lightly edited to reflect current events.
Have you ever taken time to gaze at the stars on a clear night, either with a casual eye or a telescope? If so, you might have seen the famous star cluster, the Pleiades, without even knowing it! Known as the Seven Sisters from Greek mythology, it is a bright and compact group of stars. The Pleiades cluster actually contains about one thousand stars of which the seven brightest ones outshine all the others. This post will introduce you to star clusters like the Pleiades, the subject of a significant part of the IU Department of Astronomy’s research.
“The Seven Sisters.” The name conveniently suggests that star clusters can be considered “families” of stars, as stars are known to be born from shared molecular clouds. These families have to fight against the gravitational pull of the much larger galaxy (and its glamorous city life) to keep its members within its own gravitational hug, but often many family members escape and become part of the general galactic population. Smaller star families with weaker gravitational bonds are often disbanded completely, while larger ones—though they still lose a number of children—are able to survive and orbit the galaxy together. These are the star clusters that we enjoy gazing at, and also the ones that we study as astronomers. (more…)